Professors As Managers in a Changing Classroom: A Practical Approach to Preparing Students for the Future of Work


As the future of work evolves and changes, so do the approaches to creating effective instruction in the classroom. Though the classroom and workplace environment constantly transforms, the need for human connection and proper coaching is still essential to quality education. Technology, simulations, and hands-on activities have been beneficial in preparing students for participation in the workforce. However, through lessons learned from teaching in an ever-changing educational environment, a connection still needs to be made to bridge theory and practice. This paper shares a brief six-step framework to prepare students for the future by professors taking a managerial approach to business instruction by instituting industry techniques for successful classroom management.

After nearly two decades in the fast-paced world of financial management and completing my terminal degree, I choose to make a dramatic life change to move from industry to academia. Having hired, onboarded, and coached hundreds of employees over my time as a manager, I was now ready to take my cumulative knowledge of employee development to the next generation of business leaders – college students. I began my transition in January of 2020. I was excited, nervous, and filled with uninformed enthusiasm for this new journey. Little did I know that my timing was about to intersect with a global pandemic never seen before in our lifetime. The concepts of social distancing, virtual classrooms, and HyFlex methods would become the norm in universities worldwide, even though graduate school provided no training to prepare for such adaptability and required flexibility. Regardless, I took an approach much different than the professors in my educational journey. I tackled the consistently changing academic landscape in the same way as my time in industry; I chose to operate my classroom as a business manager. 

This concept is not new and has been researched and theorized for generations (Burk & Wiese, 2018; Conroy Jr, 1989). My approach was based in practice and less theoretical than most university courses, but the only way I could see if this approach worked was to create a strategic plan and bring it to fruition. A common colloquialism in academics is to meet students where they are (Pransky & Bailey, 2002; Sunderland, 2014). Though this idea sounds nice, it is rarely put into action. As a manager, understanding the needs of your team, employees, and constituency is key to shaping the culture in which you are operating. The classroom is no different. As an effective manager knows their employees, I had to know my students. As a newly minted doctor, I chose to view students as valued employees rather than customers or unaware prospects. My strategy was simple yet effective. Here are the key points and behaviors that took center stage in my plan to embrace the classroom of tomorrow to prepare future business leaders. 

Professor as Manager Model

Step 1: Know Yourself

Too often, as professors, we feel we have to know all the answers and act as a sage on the stage (King, 1993) or guide on the side (Gilboy, et al., 2015). Let your students know who you are and let them know when you do not have the answers. Be truthful, transparent, and mindful of classroom management. Poor management is one of the leading causes of employee attrition (Hoffman & Tadelis, 2021; Nappinnai & Premavathy, 2013). Do not let ineffective classroom management cause poor student attendance, participation, and productivity. In management, the concept of mindfulness is critical to being fully present in all situations Patel & Holm, 2018). Be present for your students just as a manager is there for their employees. Keep in mind that as the level of operational understanding between a new employee and a seasoned manager are very distant from one another, the knowledge difference between a professor with a terminal degree and an undergraduate student is ions apart. 

Step 2: Know Your Students

Every term, each of my students has a required assignment where they have to be interviewed by me, and they interview me. In my experience, This is the only way to really get to meet students where they are. This small activity establishes a culture of mutual trust, respect, and open communication. When a manager takes over a department or organization in order to gain an intimate understanding of employee needs, goals, and opportunities for improvement, they usually solicit information from their employees to improve the odds of a successful managerial transition. When a professor brings in a class, they too should take an assessment of how to enhance the learning environment for each student.

Step 3: Create a Culture of Care

Viewing students as employees means creating and developing a culture of mutual care. Understanding what they are dealing with in their personal, professional, and academic careers is not enough. A professor as a manager needs to show caring, empathy, and investment in building up their students (El Majidi, et al., 2015). Managers who have embraced the tenants of Human Resource Development (Garavan, 2007) understand the power of preparing people for the next level of their careers. A professor should do the same in developing students, not just as learners but as future employees and managers. 

Step 4: Monitoring

In business, a common cliché is that a good manager always inspects what they expect (Kerzner, 2002). The classroom is no different. Seeking consistent periodic feedback is critical to determining the value of the subject matter being taught. Just as businesses hold staff meetings, employee surveys, and feedback sessions, the same must happen in the classroom. Some exercises utilized are the Hotwash Model (FEMA, n.d.), an after-event discussion and evaluation technique often used by firefighters. When implemented in the classroom, students are frequently asked for feedback at the end of each week or section to determine the effectiveness of the instruction. Other methods of gathering data include mid-semester surveys with hard-hitting questions, seeking personal feedback from high and low-achieving students, and the end of the term student evaluation. Collecting this information is not good enough; analyzing the data and making changes is of the utmost importance as students feel they have a voice in their education.

Step 5: Share Your Stories

As a student, most of the instruction I received was in the form of theories, calculations, and critical analysis. Though these are highly important to education as a whole, they do not allow students to understand how these constructs are used in the world of business industry. Sure there are case studies, flipped classrooms, videos, and news articles that can be used to supplement instruction (Herreid & Schiller, 2013). However, at the primary level, students still need to connect how these concepts influence commerce, organizational culture, customer service, and situational leadership. Just as a good manager coaches their employees with clear examples and local situations, an influential professor should share their own detailed stories of issues with strategic successes, managerial mistakes, and ineffective leadership. It becomes a reality when students can create a vision and connection with the topic. Theories become real when instructed through a story and are no longer just abstract concepts. 

Step 6: Turning Lessons into Practice

Unlike science students who can test their hypotheses in a lab through hands-on instruction, business students can be disadvantaged in practicing managerial operations. Employees often receive structured training when starting a new role that consists of orientation and on-the-job training (Bhakta & Medina, 2021). Students, when coached as employees, deserve the same sort of process. Both managers and professors are vested in their subordinates/students, and embracing this idea can be powerful. In the early part of the term, students are introduced to topics, allowed to make mistakes without severe consequences, and allowed to make necessary corrections. Just as a manager would not terminate a new employee for making a mistake in the initial stages of employment, a professor should think twice about being overly critical of a new student trying to understand a new subject matter. As the course continues, students take a more prominent role in managing processes, debating business ideas, and teaching each other. Allowing students to take greater control through active education not only solidifies the lessons of management but, on a small scale, will enable them to turn their ideas into practice.  


As a new professor, taking a managerial approach to teaching was a considerable risk, and one I was not sure would be successful. But as any good sales manager will tell you, the proof is in the pudding. Rather than explain my perceived success with this classroom strategy, here is a very small sample of the feedback that I have received from student reviews over the past two years:

“I just wanted to take a minute to tell you how much I appreciate what your course has done for me and I’m sure other students too!! The amount of effort it must’ve taken to provide us with real resources that will actually help us out in the real world is something that no other professor has ever done for any of my classes, in the past so I wanted to say that personally, I greatly appreciate how much effort and genuine interest you put into organizing your classes, and if you haven’t heard it already, I can guarantee that I’m speaking for others in my class too!”

“My background did not prepare me at all for taking this class, but I am proud to share that this professor and course made me prepared to turn my passion into a reality. This is my first class with this professor and in this short amount of time he became one of my favorite professors. Not only he is an expert in the field, but he shares his passion for Business through instruction. His teaching methods are remarkable and extremely helpful.”

“I am really thankful for what you have taught me, I am only now recognizing how much you’ve taught me for my future job.”

“The professor clearly has a lot of experience, so he is qualified to teach business courses. He often ties stories into material which makes them easier for students to understand how to apply the material.”

“Awesome professor who really wants his students to learn the material he presents. His real life examples helped a ton in connecting the material to real
world application.”

“This professor always put forth effort into providing a class with real-world examples and first-hand experiences. He is always very open to feedback and flexible with scheduling which is greatly appreciated!”

“I loved this course and learned so much. He had the best stories that helped connect to what we are learning about. He always made us feel important, and I love how open he was if we were having problems with a project. Overall, this was my favorite course this semester, and I hope to take classes from him again.”

Most great professors are used to seeing this type of feedback; however, in my opinion, these results stem from implementing a managerial model within the classroom. 


Technology, instructional tools, internships, externships, and hands-on activities will continually evolve and change what the classroom in the future will look like. Both in-person and virtual instruction will embrace new pedagogical methods as time goes on, but not all future classroom aspects will be affected. What does not change is the need for human connection, coaching, and the need for professors to prepare their students for business success. To provide valuable instruction that adequately prepares students for the work of tomorrow, professors need to embrace the challenges of today with agility, flexibility, and a focus on building students up for the next stages in their lives. The Professor as Manager approach is not a strategy that will work for everyone. Still, in my experience, the results have been phenomenal, and the student feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. These musings are lessons learned in my short time in academia and ones that I hope can create more significant classroom successes for students and professors alike. 


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